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Celebrity photographer Nicky Johnston tells the story of volunteering today

Wednesday, 31 October 2018
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More used to shooting some of the world’s A List stars and top models, celebrity and fashion photographer Nicky Johnston has turned his lens to capture some of Britain’s everyday heroes as part of a campaign to mark the 80th anniversary of Royal Voluntary Service.

Nicky travelled across Britain to capture the spirit of volunteering today and to photograph a selection of Royal Voluntary Service volunteers who so generously gift their time to helping others in hospital and in the community. The pictures depict volunteers from services such as lunch clubs, Community Companions, Men’s Sheds and onward support in hospital. Subjects included Community Companions volunteer John Aylward, who visits 97 year old Stella Green at her home in London every week and Maha Abbas, who provides company to patients in hospital in Leicester.

The portraits are currently on display for a limited time at a pop-up 80th anniversary photography exhibition at London’s gallery@oxo until Monday 5 November 2018.

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97 year old client Stella Green talking to Royal Voluntary Service volunteer John Aylward.

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Royal Voluntary Service volunteer Maha Abbas chatting and playing cards with patient Sheila Turner.

The Gift of Time exhibition will see Johnston’s images displayed alongside pictures from Royal Voluntary Service’s archive, which is recognised by UNESCO as one of the most important collections in the UK, particularly for women’s history.

The charity was founded as Women’s Voluntary Services in 1938, as the nation prepared for war and galvanized over a million women to volunteer to support the home front. From air raid precautions to evacuating children, the tireless efforts of the ‘women in green’ as they became fondly known, were central to winning the war.

In the decades that followed, the organisation and its unique philosophy of voluntary service maintained its place at the heart of civic life. It tackled extraordinary social challenges – from assisting with the migration of thousands of refugees to the UK following the Hungarian revolution, advising what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, and organising holidays for disadvantaged children, to assisting the NHS by providing all important compassion on ward.

"I didn’t realise, and I don’t think most people do, what Royal Voluntary Service does. Then you find out they do tai chi classes, and hundreds of different things. I work in a different world; I’m usually shooting celebrities; it’s a totally different ball game for me. I have to say, I’ve got quite attached to it because it is so different from what I normally do. And it reminds me of my nan and my gran, who are no longer with us, and how I used to sit and chat to them. It’s a reality check. Thank heavens there are people like this around who give up their time to help others.

"I wanted my pictures to be joyous, because the volunteers are amazing in what they do and in giving up their time. The people who are receiving that help are joyous about it too. It makes such a difference to their lives and I wanted to show that."

Nicky Johnston, Photographer

“Our wonderful volunteers do so many different roles, and Nicky’s images capture these and their spirit perfectly. For over 80 years, our charity has been inspiring the gift of voluntary service to help others –whether that has been supporting the home front and assisting during an emergency or preventing readmissions by helping people home from hospital to serving food and company to older people at a lunch club."

Catherine Johnstone CBE, Royal Voluntary Service, Chief Executive
The free exhibition will run until 5 November at the gallery@oxo on London’s Southbank. It’s free to attend and no pre-booking is required. We hope to see you there.

For further information

Royal Voluntary Service is one of the largest voluntary service organisations in Britain. We inspire and enable 20,000 volunteers to help people in need in hospitals, at home and in the community.

Our volunteers improve patient experience in hospital, aid recovery after a stay on ward, help older people support themselves at home, stay fit and active and build meaningful social connections.

Royal Voluntary Service supports volunteers to run services in the community such as lunch and dining clubs, physical activity classes, craft, gardening and other hobby groups. We work collaboratively with other charities, social care providers and the NHS to help create a society where everyone feels valued and involved.

The charity is one of the UK’s largest hospital retailers with 230 volunteer-run shops, cafés and trolley services providing tea and company to patients, hospital staff and visitors.

To become a local volunteer search for volunteering opportunities in your area. Or help make a difference by making a secure online donation.

If you are a member of the press and have a media enquiry please contact the Media Team. For all other enquiries, contact us.

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